Cancer recovery and return to work

With John Stark, Physiotherapist Occupational Health Consultant

In Australia, about 40% of people diagnosed with cancer are of working age (20–64). We all know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer and some of us have supported someone close to us to work through their cancer treatment. One of my close family members is a cancer survivor and I witnessed them struggle to return to work due to the side effects of their treatment. Luckily, my family member was able to implement flexible working arrangements so they could continue working productively throughout their treatment.  


Cancer and the process of returning to work in Australia is governed by a complex interplay of medical, legal, and workplace considerations. Australia has a robust healthcare system that provides cancer patients with access to world-class treatments, yet the journey back to employment can still be challenging. The diagnosis and treatment of cancer often lead to extended periods of leave from work, resulting in financial strain and a hiatus from the workforce.


While Australia’s legal framework, including the Disability Discrimination Act and the Fair Work Act, safeguards the rights of cancer survivors in the workplace, it can still be challenging to navigate the return-to-work process. The Disability Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and this includes cancer survivors who may need workplace accommodations or adjustments. Employers are obligated to make reasonable adjustments to facilitate the return to work for employees recovering from cancer treatments, as long as the reasonable adjustment do not cause an unjustifiable hardship to the business. Additionally, the Fair Work Act provides provisions for sick leave and compassionate leave, allowing employees to take the necessary time off for medical treatments and recovery.


Despite these legal protections, returning to work after cancer treatment in Australia can still present challenges. Employers need to be aware of their responsibilities and foster a supportive and understanding work environment. Adjustments that cancer survivors may require include access to flexible work hours, reduced workloads, or modified tasks to accommodate their changing physical and emotional needs. Community and peer support play a vital role in helping cancer survivors navigate their recovery, ensuring a smoother return to work and improved overall well-being.


One critical aspect of cancer recovery that often goes hand in hand with returning to work is the role of exercise. Research has shown that incorporating regular physical activity into a cancer survivor’s life can have numerous benefits. Exercise not only helps individuals regain their physical strength and stamina, it also contributes to improved mental well-being. Engaging in moderate-intensity aerobic activities can help combat the fatigue that often accompanies cancer treatments and enhance overall quality of life.


Moreover, exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer recurrence and can aid in the management of long-term side effects. For cancer survivors returning to work in Australia, maintaining an exercise routine can be a valuable tool in regaining their productivity and managing stress. It is essential for employers to recognize the benefits of exercise and encourage a workplace culture that supports and accommodates employees’ efforts to stay physically active.


The process of cancer recovery and returning to work in Australia is a multifaceted journey, encompassing legal protections, workplace support, and the role of exercise. The legal framework ensures that cancer survivors have rights and protections to aid their return to the workforce, and employers play a vital role in fostering a supportive environment. Incorporating exercise into the recovery process is an important aspect that not only helps survivors regain physical and mental well-being but also contributes to their overall quality of life. By addressing these aspects comprehensively, Australia can provide a more inclusive and supportive environment for cancer survivors seeking to return to work.

Back on Track consultants are expereinced in helping survivors navigate the return to work process and in supporting their ongoing recovery and restoration of function. For more information get in touch with us at Contact Back on Track or 07 3904 2040.


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